Anti-Europeans must be reined in, warns Clarke

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Indy Politics

KENNETH CLARKE warned William Hague yesterday to stop the Tories being bounced by the party's "extremist" Eurosceptics into a policy of withdrawing from the EU.

KENNETH CLARKE warned William Hague yesterday to stop the Tories being bounced by the party's "extremist" Eurosceptics into a policy of withdrawing from the EU.

Mr Clarke opposed growing demands by sceptics for a future Tory government to renegotiate the Treaty of Rome, suggesting this was code for their goal of leaving the EU.

But the divide on Europe widened when John Maples, the shadow Foreign Secretary, announced that one of the first acts of an incoming Tory government would be to negotiate an amendment to the treaty allowing member states to opt out of future EU legislation.

The pledge delighted the Tory conference. Mr Maples said: "This will stop the slide to a superstate. No longer will Britain be bound by every anti-business, nanny state, interfering regulation dreamt up by the (European) Commission." Mr Clarke added to Mr Hague's problems on Europe by joining Michael Heseltine's rearguard action against a further hardening of the Tory line.

At a Blackpool fringe meeting, Mr Clarke broke his recent silence on Europe, saying the sceptics had taken advantage of it "to try to force the Conservative Party to take more extreme anti-European and revanchist views ... That kind of political extremism is quite contrary to the tradition of Tory internationalism which has dominated our party throughout my political lifetime."

The former Chancellor urged Mr Hague to rein in shadow cabinet ministers. He accused them of going way beyond the party's official policy, which rules out membership of the single currency in this Parliament and the next.

Although Mr Clarke did not give names, he was believed to be aiming his fire at John Redwood and Iain Duncan Smith. He said "several leading people in the party" had made speeches on the euro "which are far too extreme to fit with the official policy".

He said Mr Hague had already gone beyond the "wait and see" policy on which most Tory MPs were re-elected in 1997. He warned him not to bow to pressure to rule out joining the euro for ever, saying it would be absurd to cause "bitterness and rancour" within the party. "We must not continue to present ourselves as a divided party, when we are in such agreement on the policy work in every other area."

But Mr Clarke also had a warning for Tony Blair, denying Downing Street's claims that the all-party Britain In Europe campaign had watered down its aims from being pro-single currency to merely pro-EU. He said "press advisers" who "got the wind up" about the campaign and tried to play down its ambitions should be ignored.

Yesterday Mr Hague tried to mend the Tory split and said he would not "eliminate" pro-Europeans such as Mr Clarke and Mr Heseltine. "That is not part of my agenda. My agenda is in Europe, not being run by Europe," he said. Mr Hague added: "People are sick and tired of their powers and rights in this country being handed over to Brussels and I say we have to draw a line and we have to stop that."

Mr Maples toned down his speech, dropping plans to compare the threat to Britain from the EU to that from Nazi Germany. His original draft said that although his generation had not fought to secure Britain's freedom, it faced "a threat to our freedom and independence every bit as great".